I’ve been a fan of The Cos since I was a child. I used to stay up late listening to the Sunday Night Funnies on CHUM FM. George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Cheech and Chong, Bob Newhart, Eddie Murphy, Monty Python, The Frantics and Richard Pryor were the rock stars of my youth. But none had a greater place in my heart than Bill Cosby.Â Cosby’s humor had an appeal that spanned all ages, genders and races. It’s a secret formula that I don’t think anyone has ever been able to duplicate. Sure, there were racier, riskier, louder comics out there, but Cosby’s stories all centered around universal truth. They were things that we all knew or would know as human beings: growing up, being married, having kids, going to the dentist. Surely, these are time-worn topics, but The Cos made them seem fresh every one of the thousand times I heard these stories on the radio or on the cassette tapes I listened to in my Walkman. I was thrilled when Laura gave me two tickets to Cosby’s show in Hamilton for Christmas. They were cleverly taped to a giant ceramic brick, which was then enveloped in a cardboard and wrapping paper disguise that made the whole package look like a bedazzled battleship.
The show was last night. I’m pleased to report that at 71, The Cos still has It. He seems frailer and slower now. But, there was an unpretentious charm about how he unceremoniously entered stage left without any introduction, ultra-casual in his baggy UMASS sweatshirt and baseball cap. He dawdled across the stage, and settled himself into a comfy chair. But, where time may have greyed his appearance, the truth still shines through his routine. It’s like sitting down with an old friend who’s telling you what’s been happening in his life in the past couple of months. His rubbery facial expressions with an acrobatic voice to match make everything funny, even his first story about having an abscess in his face.Â He got his first big laugh of the night by just saying, “I’m going to die.” During that story, he rambled and tangented, and allowed himself to be sidetracked by the audience. Being a brilliant storyteller, however, he never lost sight of his destination. Half an hour later, after so much bobbing and weaving, so many diversions and side-stories I lost count, he tied it all the way back to his very first sentence in a few phrases that hit so fast and so hard that I never saw them coming. It reminded me strongly of the Bassprov workshop I took a couple of years ago. Mark Sutton and Joe Bill likened an improv set to a road trip: you can take all kinds of interesting side trips, but never forget where you’re going.
The bulk of Cosby’s routine has grown along with him. The universal truths have followed him into senior citizenship. The middle portion of his routine was about aging, about seeing doctors, getting a colonoscopy, about being a grandparent, and about being elderly and married. Yet somehow, it’s still funny! During his story about enduring his grandson’s first birthday party, followed quickly by a tangent story about his elderly friend who suffered a chain of side effects from different medications, I laughed so hard I almost broke a rib.
Cosby ended the night with his classic dentist bit. It was like driving home, reaching familiar territory. It’s a bit that I could nearly lip sync, because I’d heard it so many times before. He slipped into it as easily as a pair of old sneakers, and suddenly he was young again. His timing and delivery were of his earlier era. When he finished with the classic, “Look! A rainbow!” he brought the house down. As he waved and left the stage, he got a well-deserved standing ovation. Personally, when I stood for his ovation, I cheered his entire career and the influence he’s had on me as a human being and a student of comedy. Just as I felt honored to have seen Oscar Peterson play jazz piano like no one has every played before, I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to see this giant of the comedy world.